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Down to Earth

File under "Chris Rock Lite." If you think Chris Rock has inherited the mantle of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor as one of the most insightful, provocative comedians of the last decade, you're bound to find Down to Earth a disappointment. But if you're just looking for a romantic comedy that offers a few laughs over 90 minutes, Rock's effort is far better than the typical SNL comic turned movie star. Adapted from 1978's Heaven Can Wait (written by Elaine May and Warren Beatty) and directed by Chris and Paul Weitz (American Pie), Rock stars as struggling stand-up comedian Lance Barton, who works as a bike messenger by day while hoping his manager Whitney (Frankie Faison) can score him better gigs. An appearance at the Apollo on amateur night is a disaster, but before Lance can rework his material he meets the business end of a Mack truck, sending him to Heaven, that great nightclub in the sky. But once in Heaven it is learned that Mr. Keyes (Eugene Levy) snatched Lance away too early, leaving it up to Mr. King (Chazz Palminteri) to find him a new earthly vessel. Enter billionaire Charles Wellington, freshly murdered by his trophy wife and scheming assistant. Lance assumes the identity of the 53-year-old white tycoon while awaiting a more suitable body, but before long he falls in love with public-medicine advocate Sontee (Regina King), who is protesting Wellington's privatization of a Brooklyn hospital. As Down to Earth is a clear-cut remake of Heaven Can Wait, fans of the previous film will discover that Rock's version has little to offer in the way of surprises — it's such a carbon-copy in fact that it's hard to understand exactly why this film needed to be remade (especially considering that Beatty's film is far superior.) However, as a vehicle for Chris Rock, Down to Earth has many fine moments and occasional forays into the racial-observation comedy that Rock has made his hallmark (the balding white businessman is beaten by two black toughs for singing along with a rap tune that has the "N" word in it; Sontee: "What do you think would happen if I went around singing 'Kill whitey?'" Lance: "You'd probably get a record deal.") Best of all are Lance's two heavenly guides, Palminteri as the suave Mr. King and Levy as the nebbish Mr. Keyes, who provide a perfect anecdote to Rock's loudmouth antics with deft comic asides. Paramount's DVD release of Down to Earth features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Includes a 10-minute featurette with interviews from various cast members, and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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